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San Quentin prison guard can sue over fall on walk to work


A California prison guard who was injured after he fell while walking to work from his home that he rented from the state should be allowed to proceed with a tort lawsuit against his employer even though he received workers compensation for his injuries, a California appellate court ruled.

Monnie Wright was a correctional officer at San Quentin State Prison and voluntarily lived on the San Quentin premises in a unit that he rented from the state of California, court records show. He fell in December 2010 while walking from his home to the prison and received more than $137,000 in workers comp medical and disability benefits for related injuries.

Mr. Wright also filed a liability lawsuit against the state of California in Marin County Superior Court, arguing that he “fell and was injured when a defectively constructed and dangerously maintained stair crumbled beneath him" during his walk, court filings show. The state argued in court that workers comp was the exclusive remedy for Mr. Wright's injuries and that his tort lawsuit should be dismissed.

The state also argued in filings that California's coming and going rule, which bars workers comp benefits for employees injured going to and from work, did not apply since Mr. Wright's home was property of the state and therefore should be considered the employer's premises.

The Superior Court ruled in March 2013 in favor of the state, finding that although Mr. Wright was on state-owned property at the time of his fall, he had not entered his work premises at the time of his fall. Therefore, the court found that the coming and going rule applied to his accident.

Mr. Wright requested a new trial, arguing that the Superior Court should have considered California's bunkhouse rule, filings show. The rule states that “an employee-resident's injuries are covered by workers' compensation only if the employment contract contemplates or the work requires the employee's (residence) on employer-owned premises" — a condition he said didn't apply since the state didn't require him to live on the San Quentin premises.

Mr. Wright's request was denied by the Superior Court, which found that the bunkhouse rule was not applicable in his case, records show. Mr. Wright appealed.

A three-judge panel of the California 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday that Mr. Wright should be allowed to proceed with a tort lawsuit against the state of California for his injuries.

The appellate court found that Mr. Wright was a residential employee of the state of California, even though the state didn't require him to live on the San Quentin premises. But it noted that the state did not intend that its workers comp policy to cover residential workers for all injuries suffered on the San Quentin grounds, since Mr. Wright's lease required him to obtain liability insurance for his residence.

“Why would the State have inserted these provisions into Wright’s lease if it believed him covered by workers’ compensation at all times?” the ruling reads.

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